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Weeks retiring as KershawHealth CEO

Board authorizes chairman to sign ‘transition agreement and release’

Posted: August 1, 2013 6:52 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2013 5:00 a.m.

The question of who is in control of KershawHealth -- at least from an administrative standpoint -- will change sometime in the near future as Donnie Weeks announces his retirement as president and CEO of the healthcare organization.

The announcement came after a more than 90-minute executive session Thursday morning during a KershawHealth Board of Trustees finance focus meeting. Weeks’ decision was revealed when Trustee Derial Ogburn made a motion to authorize Chairman Paul Napper to “sign a transition agreement and release regarding the retirement of the CEO, Donnie Weeks.”

The board unanimously authorized Napper to do so, with Trustee Steve Holliday Jr. absent.

Both immediately after the meeting and in a follow-up phone call, Napper said that Weeks’ retirement is a joint decision between the CEO and the board.

“The board also felt it was appropriate,” Napper said. “We’re going to have some tough times in the next five years. Mr. Weeks’ contract ends in January 2016 and we need somebody to come on board … somebody to guide us in the next five years.”

He said a formal announcement would come during the next week while he and Weeks “nail down some loose ends.”

When asked if Vice President and COO/CFO Mike Bunch would at least act as interim president and CEO, Napper said that Weeks has agreed to stay on until the board is satisfied they have found a qualified person to replace him.

“Donnie Weeks will be our CEO until we name a successor,” Napper said.

A previous make up of the board hired Weeks to lead what was then known as Kershaw County Medical Center 16 years ago, in August 1997.

Weeks, a native of Barnwell, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina (USC). His healthcare career began in 1974 when, at the age of 26, he became the CEO of Barnwell County Hospital and Nursing Home. Later, during his tenure as CEO of Newberry County Memorial Hospital, he served as an adjunct professor at USC’s Arnold School of Public Health, teaching graduate courses in healthcare finance.

Weeks is serving his second term on the board of the South Carolina Hospital Association, having served as its board chair in 1994.

Up until July 2008, Weeks’ contract was set to expire at the end of 2009. The board as comprised then voted to extend it by three years through 2013 and added an automatic one-year extension clause. In December 2010, however, Weeks decided that he needed to begin thinking about retirement and negotiated a new contract that extended his tenure to January 2016, but eliminated the automatic one-year extensions. At the time, Weeks’ base salary was listed at $317,000, considered to be mid-range for CEOs at comparable healthcare systems. Other compensation was not reported.

Napper said details of Weeks’ exit package will be made public with the official retirement announcement.

During his tenure, Weeks oversaw an expansion in terms of both locations and services. The West Wateree Medical Complex opened the same year Weeks was hired, 1997. Six years later, an aquatic therapy pool was added to the facility. In 2004, a major addition to the main campus was completed, including an eight-bed intensive care unit, 24-bed nursing unit, five surgical suites and pre- and post-op units. In 2009, KershawHealth completed construction of the Elgin Outpatient and Urgent Care Center. Other additions and expansions included a state-of-the-art MRI unit; technology investments, including electronic records; and adding specialists in ENT, cardiology, urology, orthopedics and pulmonology.

At various times, several trustees have said that Weeks’ decisions in those areas provided KershawHealth with the best opportunity to remain locally controlled while navigating changes brought by healthcare reform.

Not everything worked out according to plan, however. Several years ago, KershawHealth purchased the former Burndale Shopping Center in the hopes of transforming it into an outpatient/urgent care center similar to Elgin’s. It made the purchase around the same time as starting work on the Elgin center and has been unable to move forward at Burndale since then citing various financial challenges. KershawHealth also spent 18 months negotiating the formation of a new surgical practice only to recently decide to drop the plan due to financial challenges the healthcare organization is facing.

KershawHealth has also seen several “turnaround” or “improvement” plans.

In March 2006, the organization announced a $6.44 million turnaround plan that included, among other measures, firing 23 employees, including five directors and an assistant vice president. In August 2009, KershawHealth announced a financial improvement plan that did not eliminate any jobs, but did eliminate pay raises as one of many changes. Another 24 employees, however, were laid off in May 2011 as part of another financial improvement plan. That was on top of an already-existing 36 full-time equivalent decrease thanks to attrition from the previous October.

In June 2012, the administration closed down one of its operating rooms, eliminating one management position and five clinical and surgical positions. Two already existing vacancies in the surgical department were also not filled.

For more than two years, KershawHealth has reported monthly losses, primarily due to a combination of the “Great Recession,” a shift from residents using inpatient to more outpatient services, and cuts in government reimbursements. More recently, it announced that it had lost $4.8 million from EMS operations alone during the last five years and unsuccessfully requested that Kershaw County carry the deficit. In recent weeks, Bunch announced that the healthcare organization could face up to $32 million in losses by 2018 if the state of South Carolina continues to refuse to expand its Medicaid program.

Some trustees, including new ones appointed by Kershaw County Council last October, have questioned past and current decisions, and sought changes in board procedures and by-laws. And at least one member of county council has been highly critical of Weeks, other administrators and members of the board.

Napper was asked if the current climate on the board factored in to Weeks’ decision.

“I don’t know if it did or not,” Napper said, “but I think it’s the right time for both the board and for Donnie Weeks for this to happen at this time.”

In a phone interview following Thursday’s meeting, Weeks confirmed he and Napper would be working on the transition agreement. He also said that he felt he was leaving KershawHealth in a good place.

“KershawHealth is positioned well from the balance sheet to cash flow to weather the challenges ahead,” Weeks said.

He said it was critical that the “right strategic moves be made,” but said he was optimistic about KershawHealth’s future for two reasons: that Kershaw County’s overall population is large enough to continue supporting the healthcare organization, and that it has excellent employees who are well-trained and competent to serve that population.

“As I approach retirement, I’m very positive about how the healthcare organization is positioned for the future,” Weeks repeated.

While not outright confirming Napper’s statement that he would stay on board until a replacement is named, Weeks did say he was willing to help out.

“I’m very supportive and want to be a part of the transition process (to find) the next CEO of this system,” he said. “I’ll be available as much as the board might wish.”

Weeks declined to speak to exactly when his last day at KershawHealth would be nor what his plans are for the future.

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